...or Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Every New Years Day I do a hike with my boyfriend, Craig. This year we decided to drive in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood that spits us out onto a fireroad that leads to hills and large rock formations the southwest side of Lake Hodges. Our regular hike/walk is on two trails on the northeast side of the lake. I always have been intrigued by the steep hills 'across the water'. It's that hill where the mysterious lone house sits, between the I-15 and Del Dios Highway.
The path became boring so we headed up a ravine towards the rocks, towards the top of the hill. It was fun, steep but fun. We stopped often to appreciate the view (and catch our breath). The walk became a climb towards the top...foothold, handhold, foothold, etc. Then I realized I couldn't do the last bit, I was too tired. I was stuck high on a boulder with no way out! I could not go down and I could not go forward.
This realization was quickly followed by fear. "Call 911" ran through my head. Thank goodness I always carry my cell phone (even though we're often out of service area).
By now you are asking yourself, how does this story have anything to do with birth. Here we go : ) ...Labor is often explained as "picture yourself climbing a steep hill", at first you can chat and enjoy the scenery. After laboring (hiking) for awhile you need to concentrate on your breathing and stop for frequent drinks of water. After awhile longer you might be audibly breathing and complaining to your hiking, i mean, labor partner. Soon you learn that complaining doesn't help so you forge ahead and think about the finish line - meeting your baby! In labor some people sing about their favorite things (as in Mary Poppins ) or rock out with their Ipod. Some women just sway with the music. Still other women pray. That is what I did in my predicament on the rock. It's also often what I do at birth. I pray when I am with women that are birthing. I pray to Jesus. Other doula friends chant to their gods. Birth is a spiritual experience.
Towards the end of labor some women will do just what i did on my mountain hike, become fearful, give up, run out of energy. What now? Call 911? Nope. If you have a good labor coach or doula they will say the right things to help alleviate your fears. Once you calm down and relax your birthing muscles birth happens with a lot less pain. Sometimes you need more than a calm voice. My hiking partner (and life partner), Craig, had to use a stern voice with me. I was panicked. When he got through to me and I made the conscious decision to trust him. He lead me out of my dilemma, onto solid ground. I felt like kissing the ground!
One part of my experience that is common to laboring mommies is that I was 'In My Head', spinning worst case scenario, the 'what if' kind. What if I fall and twist my ankle or break my back or get head injury or die... See where my head took me? Spiraling out of control were my thoughts followed by my fears and my pain, powerlessness, and finally surrender. Ahhh sweet surrender (more on that below).
I usually am very comfortable climbing and hiking miles off the trail in unknown territory (Birth is unknown territory for many). But those spinning stories further paralysed me and my natural instincts and intuition went out the door. This commonly happens to women in childbirth. You may have heard your midwife or doula say, Let Your Monkey Do It. Ina May Gaskin wrote about letting your monkey do it in Spiritual Midwifery. Another way to say it is "Stay out of your brain" during labor. This is a challenge in a hospital full of strangers asking questions and technology beeping away. Birthing From Within training taught me a Non Focused Awareness practice that works great in many life's circumstances but especially labor. I was practicing NFA early on - staying in the moment - feeling the breeze, sun, sweat, listening to every sound and smelling the weeds, wildflowers...but in my panicked state I did not practice NFA on the hardest part of my hike. I needed a coach to talk me through each step back to safe ground. That is what a birth doula does.
So I surrendered to my hiking partner's directions and got myself to safety. I surrendered to the helplessness of my situtation. This is not a bad time to surrender. In our society surrender is a horrible thing. We need to be strong! right? Well sometimes folks we just need to let go. In Birth and on the Rock I let go. I remember when I was stuck for what seemed to be hours at 7 centimeters while having my last baby at home. My midwife said (oh so sweetly), "You appear to be thrashing, try to stay quietly still and let that energy go to the contraction" or something to that effect. In my brain I thought "F- - - YOU!" But in my body I trusted her and did exactly as directed. I went to complete or 10 centimeters instantly! And met my baby soon after.
On the rock, I was holding on to a ledge for dear life. My partner sternly told me to "let go" and "grab my hand". Are you kidding me! I brain thought, "No way am I letting go of this rock ledge". It was all I knew, it was solid. I had visions of me pulling Craig down the abyss with me. But in my body I did exactly as my trusted loving partner directed and landed on solid ground!
Its scary to let go. Be brave. Birth Blessings, Rosie
Picture above is the rock I got stuck on and here I am before the hard part of the hike.